My Turn

Demystifying the Digital Hub

Clif C Hirtle - 2002.02.25

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

I believe there is a fundamental misconception within the ranks of many a Mac aficionado. As many of us know and point out every day, the Mac OS software layer makes the Mac not just another Windows machine but something more complete, more thought-out, more evolved.

Along the same line of thinking, I believe it is important to consider that the Mac hardware layer makes the Mac not just another TV, VCR, PVR (personal video recorder), or "dumb" (in the denotative, not connotative, meaning) electronic device.

Looking at the issue from a "Why does my Mac not do X consumer TV/TiVo/etc. function" addresses the issue of Apple's ubiquitous "Digital Hub" concept from the wrong direction. The fundamental question that should be asked in addressing why one's Mac does not play well with one's TV is, "What truly separates a computer from a DVD player, TV, PVR, etc.?"

When Apple says "digital hub" I believe they are really referring to the Mac as a tool for the creation of digital content (home DVDs, CD compilations, desktop videos, etc.) rather than a half-baked, generally dumb playback engine intended to compete with other dedicated devices (DVD players, TVs, PVRs, etc.) that generally do the job better and more in line with consumer's expectations for enjoying digital content in the living room versus the office.

Supporting this perspective we see both direct statements from Apple (such as recent comments from Steve Jobs that Apple is not even looking at the TV-on-Mac market for another 24 months) and market realities that you can still get considerably better TV/DVD decoding, Dolby sound output, and general PC-living room convergence in a Windows box than a Mac or a dedicated electronics box than a Mac (see the Radeon 8500 All-In-Wonder, WinTV-PVR, and Nvidia Personal Cinema cards for a glimpse of what we're missing on our Macs).

Does this mean that a Windows or TiVo box is better than a Mac? At dumb playback of digital content, perhaps yes. But at intelligent, easy-to-use, well-thought-out creation of digital content, not a chance.

"Digital hub" appears to be a concept intended to convey the ability to add value to existing digital devices through the easy editing of their content. As we all know, a "hub" does not replace an object, it merely allows the transfer of content by linking together various devices. Perhaps it's time we reconsider the Mac as a hub to our existing digital devices, rather a replacement of these devices?

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